The Mercenary’s Code

It has long been evident that trades involving racial benefits offer disproportionately valuable rewards. Free Fighters, Super Refit, 4x Minelaying, and Fighter Sweeping cost little to provide and can win the war for anyone who accepts. Now, with the advent of the new Nerf Crystals, it has become apparent that some new means of trading for services should be attempted.

As always, the Planets Magazine staff are eager to selflessly throw themselves into research for new content, and, not willing to abandon tradition, when I was given Crystals in the War, I created an experimental format: the neutral mercenary.

As a mercenary, I’ll fight any conflict for pay. As a neutral, I have no loyalty except to myself, and outside the designated zone I’m at war with no one unless they attack me.

Contracts:

Terms should be different for a Free Fighter factory, a pet Minelayer, or a Super Refit. I’ve heard of Federation players demanding one hull out of every three that gets Refit, for example; that’s not unreasonable. The important things to remember when devising your own deal is that time is of the essence, and the devil’s in the details.

Nerf Crystals are their own brand of beast, since they need to act independently in order to be perfectly effective. It was a novel experience, and it demanded some experimentation.

Here, then, is the model contract I offered in the misnamed Cognitum War:

For all options, the following holds true:

  • Outside the range specified in the contract, the Crystals are a neutral party.
  • Client is responsible for providing ships and materials. These are the property of the Crystals, and if lost in the normal pursuit of duty or to combat will be replaced by the Client.
  • Any payment (planets) granted to the Crystals is sacrosanct, in perpetuity, its neutrality guaranteed by the Client. If lost, it will be replaced.

The first service we provide is the simple Wall. We are given a planet (preferably desert) with a large population and (eventually) a fully defended starbase. Our task is to drop webs around that planet and forbid passage to all parties but the Client, who we will tow through or scoop a gate for. More planets and minelayers equal a larger wall. Client promises to keep the bases supplied with fuel and materials, and to permit and facilitate free Crystal passage to and from all holdings. Should politics later demand relocation, the Crystal will be reasonable, but this is not a license to create a moving wall that slowly advances; in such a case, more planets will be paid. Any captures belong to the Crystal.

The second service we offer is that of a Crystal Task Force. Again, a base in the area of operations (same conditions) will be supplied by the Client, as will all ships and materiel. The minimum squadron size is four: Minelayer, Tender, Scooper, and Tow. (Specifications to follow.) These are provided with an area of operations, and the goal is to make captures of enemy vessels; all captures will be split with the Client, with the first award going to the Crystal. In case of disparity, rewards can be negotiated.

Once a Crystal Task Force is no longer needed in an area, it can be relocated to a new area and the current one be designated as a Wall or deactivated entirely. For brief contracts, the planet alone is sufficient payment (along with its dedicated web tender); for longer or nonproductive contracts, additional payment will be required. Alternate uses of webs, such as for capture, tow-kill, or Firecloud chunnel backstop are acceptable so long as each such use is paid for.

Finally: It is a rare contract which results in mutual satisfaction once concluded. As such, it is to be understood that both parties will settle accounts in a spirit of generosity and liberality, inasmuch as can be permitted by the circumstances.


Diplomacy and Clarifications:

Due to the local nature of conflicts, the wise mercenary will offer services to many parties, and hope they agree to honor neutrality. Some commanders will take every move against themselves as a declaration of total war, but that’s a failure of their imagination; the inflexible in war are doomed from the outset. However, a failure to make the nature of your paid relationship clear from just after the beginning of operations is the mercenary’s own fault. (Obviously, you never let a good chance for a sneak attack go to waste. There are limits.)

The astute reader will have noticed: There is no provision against a mercenary contracting with both sides for a Wall. This makes good sense; if two parties wish a wall between them, a neutral third party should be willing to build one for anyone who will pay — and both clients are only able to transit halfway without breaking their deal, making it perfectly fair. However, two active Task Forces in an area would conflict, so that would be impossible.

(Of course, if a Wall client wishes exclusivity, all they have to do is pay for it.)

Results:

I’ve got to be honest: The results have been rather mixed. My sole long-term contract thus far has been with the Cyborg, who has been reasonable enough in paying. Unfortunately, the fishing was quite poor, and my own contribution to the coalition was nominal. Still, I believe we’ve reached a decent payment agreement, and I have every expectation he’ll keep his word.

Regrettably, the Federation refused to even consider the merits of the concept of a player-for-hire until it was far too late for him. Otherwise, a fair return might have been achieved — and I’ve no doubt but that the fishing would have been far better. After all, the Federation was experiencing a “target-rich environment” at that point. Of course, the risks would have been greater, and extricating myself from the Cyborg contract would have likely proven awkward — if not actually unacceptable.

Lessons Learned:

First: Get paid up front, and if that’s not practicable then soon after your activities begin. It’s the only way to make absolutely certain that you do get paid, particularly if the client loses. In the early game, it’s OK to have a less-than-perfectly-defended starbase… but only for a short time. If they can’t afford you, you’re on the wrong side.

Second: As the game progresses or the situation warrants, prices go up. Cash is more common and so are colonists, so (for example) a “substantial population” might be larger in the later game than early.

Third: Time is of the essence in this and any contract. If you’re employed but sitting idle running anything more than a Wall, and that’s stopping you from taking another job, you deserve some sort of recompense.

Fourth: Keep internal books to see if you’re profitable. In general, one planet or 2 PBP for five turns of service as a net return is fine. This is why the initial ships and base should come from the Client. As a general rule, if you end up sitting idle for much more than five turns with no targets, you probably ought to be moved forward — or ask for a bonus.

Fifth: Be generous and reasonable, but don’t overextend yourself. There’s a reason that you insist on a base of operations; if you’re operating 200 LY away, that’s probably too far.

Sixth: You’re not paid to die; you’re paid to lay and scoop webs, and any surviving ships are your payment. There will come a time when your employer collapses in your area and you should either run to escape or arrange to surrender into the invader’s lines. Give good value, but when defeat becomes certain, you don’t have to fall on your sword.

Seventh: Be flexible. Sometimes a tactic requires the loan of a ship rather than a gift; that’s not unreasonable. If someone can only pay you with a free-fighter factory, take what you can get rather than earn nothing at all. Remember, there are certain minimums below which it’s not worth the trouble.

Eighth: Always keep your word; your future employment depends on it. The sole exception is if your employer refuses to pay you, or delays past a reasonable point.

Ninth: This is probably an unsuitable role in an AFoF game. It takes too long to gain a return. Then again, if you’re playing an AFoF Crystal, you’re probably doomed anyway; maybe just take what you can get and be happy.

The Bottom Line:

The mercenary’s is not a swift, guaranteed path to victory. Instead, it’s very likely to be a long, grueling, and arduous task with scant pay, ungrateful employers, and an ignominious end.

On the other hand, the same is true of any role in Planets. Ten out of eleven commanders will lose; all things being equal, this is as likely to lead to a win as anything you try — particularly if you’re a Nerf Crystal.


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